The Great Brown Booby Chase

The Chase

My dad and I finished packing up the car and pulled out of the driveway at mid-day. It was a last-minute change of plans; we had originally planned to camp and county list in Northern Neck, but a Brown Booby was found a couple hours south near the North Carolina border at Kerr Reservoir Dam. So, we planned to first chase the booby, and then spend the next day county listing around the Southern Piedmont: the most underbirded region of Virginia.

Several minutes after merging onto I-64, I checked eBird, finding that the booby had not been refound at the dam. To my surprise, an email reported that another booby had been found at Jones Neck near Richmond. The same bird, or a wave of several boobies coming through the state?

We decided to continue with our original plan of birding Southside Virginia, first dropping by some areas around the neck to look for the second booby.

We arrived at Deep Bottom Park, immediately hearing several Yellow-throated Warblers singing their shrill, spiraling warbles from sycamores across the James River: a sign of springtime.

I set up my scope on the dock, and scanned down the narrow river. Three perched Bald Eagles called nearby, and another soared overhead. After more scanning, I noticed a large flock of Tree Swallows circling around in the distance. Two more Bald Eagles flew in as we departed: a total of six at the one spot.

We hopped back on the highway and quickly exited, checking out one more vantage point of the river. After parking on a neighborhood road, I started walking through a field, flushing five snipe underfoot. As I approached a pond, several more flushed off the muddy shore. Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows worked the pond, and a Blue-gray Gnatcather called from the nearby woods.

After walking a bit further, we came to a cliff edge overlooking the James, but here the river was far wider. Several Osprey circled overhead, occasionally shrieking and dive-bombing in an attempt to scare us away from a nearby nest. After reaching a respectful distance from the pair, I scanned the river carefully, checking buoys, snags, and flocks of cormorants on the open water. No booby was found, so we headed back towards the car, flushing about fifteen more Wilson’s Snipe and finding a cute Killdeer family along the way.

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One of the babies

Back on 95, we began the long drive south to Emporia. This area of the Southern Piedmont was one I had never visited, so I hoped to add some new species for each county to fill up my Virginia map on eBird.

We entered Prince George County, and stopped at Carson Wetland to see if the Anhihgas had returned. It was about a week early for them, but we thought it was worth the try. A Double-crested Cormorant and a Great Egret were all that greeted us when we arrived at the cyprus swamp.

Back on the road, I county listed throughout the rest of Prince George, then Sussex, and finally entered Greenville County, which I had never birded in before.

We took an exit that led to a lake, and birded it for a while, seeing very little aside from a Barn Swallow, Yellow-throated Warblers, a Pine Warbler, gnatcatchers, and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

We headed back towards 95, but were stopped by a large mixed flock in a graveyard. Pine Warblers, Palm Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers worked the edge, while a phoebe called from a tree and a towhee from the brush.

The thermals were strong, and three Red-tailed Hawks circled overhead, while a Northern Harrier glided overhead. A Killdeer called in the distance from a large field. As we were about to leave, an early migrant White-eyed Vireo sang, and a familiar squeaking sound came from the top of a pine tree: a Brown-headed Nuthatch! A primarily coastal plain species in Virginia, nuthatches are always a treat to see in the piedmont.

We entered the city of Emporia, adding grackles, Fish Crows, and starlings to the list. After a quick gas and coffee break, we headed west.

Shortly, we crossed over into Brunswick County, the most underbirded county in the entire state. Not much was out along the road other than meadowlarks and bluebirds, until I spotted a Common Raven flying by. I somehow managed to bend back and snap a photo of the third county record through the rear windshield.

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Common Raven

We left Brunswick, entiering Mecklenburg County. I had already birded Mecklenburg before in September, but was hoping to add some species during the trip. We spotted Wild Turkeys, kestrels, and meadowlarks from the car.

We arrived at Kerr Dam with low expectations of finding the booby. Rafts of Red-breasted Mergansers and Horned Grebes sat on the lake side, while hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants and fishermen gathered at the dam outlet: a feeding frenzy of fish. A single Redhead dived with the cormorants.

Osprey and Bald Eagles flew above, and Black Vultures congregated on the sycamores and rock ledges by the water. Three Caspian Terns flew in, but no booby.

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Caspian Tern

We dispersed with the cormorants as the sun approached the horizon, arriving a couple minutes later at the North Bend Campground gate, where I added a handful of county lifers, from junco to thrasher.

Shortly, we pitched the tent on an isolated site at the water’s edge, where Ospreys, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and Wood Ducks returned to their roosts. After inflating mattresses and unrolling sleeping bags, we decided to make the forty minute commute to South Hill for Five Guys (worth it).

We got back to the campground filled with burgers, peanuts, and soda, where we watched the NCAA Championship Game. After a rather disappointing ending, we fell asleep to the songs of Spring Peepers and Coastal Plains Leopard Frogs.

County Listing

Awakened by the songs of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, chickadees, titmice, and Yellow-throated and Pine Warblers, we packed our gear and took down the tent, which was covered in a thick layer of frost.

In a matter of minutes we reached Tailrace Park, where we hoped to find the booby. The same species from the past evening were present, in addition to Bonaparte’s Gulls and some Cliff Swallows. I got distracted photographing the gulls, a species I saw very infrequently, before realizing that we had birds to see.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

We entered Dick Cross, a Wildlife Management Area just down the road, where half a dozen Yellow-throated Warblers sang from the pines. White-throated and and Chipping Sparrows flocked, and a White-eyed Vireo sang from a blooming bush down the gravel road. I successfully located and photographed the early migrant.

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White-eyed Vireo

We parked at the trailhead that led to a large pond. It was bone-chillingly cold, so my dad turned around minutes later. I pushed through, distracted by the songs of potential county lifers.

I reached the edge of the so-called pond, which looked more like a very flooded field, and immediately flushed three snipe underfoot. The metallic call note of dozens of Swamp Sparrows dominated the atmosphere. Aside from the marsh birds, it was uncomfortably quiet. Some Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers flew by. On my way back, the snipe were a bit more cooperative.

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Wilson’s Snipe

I returned to the car to find my dad bundled up  with a cup of coffee.

Just north of Dick Cross, we turned onto Baskerville Road, where expansive agriculture fields were dotted with abandoned homes. An old irrigation system ran parallel to the road, and dozens of Chipping and Savannah Sparrows perched on it. We pulled over at an abandoned brick house left of the road, and began to scan telephone wires, conspicuous snags, and fences for a Loggerhead Shrike. My dad and I walked down a side road, where we came across several workers wearing face masks. One of them told us we couldn’t be within a mile radius of the area because they were spraying chemicals on the fields, and that they had forgotten to post signs due to the deserted nature of the area. Scared for our lives, my dad and I turned back for the car, when I spotted the a little gray bird on a distant irrigation system. I snapped some photos before we evacuated the area.

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Loggerhead Shrike in typical scenery

Back at Kerr, we stopped at an observation area on the lake side of the dam. Just short of a hundred swallows swarmed around me and perched on nearby trees. The vast majority of them were Tree, with good numbers of Northern Rough-winged and Barn Swallows mixed in. I spent around thirty minutes photographing the swallows, entranced by their elegant flight over the pure white water.

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Tree Swallow

I took a lot of Tree Swallow photos.

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He skim

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He stare

After a momentary slip into camera birder mode, we drove fifteen minutes south to Palmer Point for Brown-headed Nuthatches.

The point was covered in mature pine forest, a habitat that Brown-headed Nuthatches are inextricably tied to. Yet again, we had multiple Yellow-throated and Pine Warblers singing. I walked down to the waters edge. Suddenly, the strange, weeping song of a lone Common Loon filled the air. I spotted its distant silhouette through the thick fog rising off the lake. I then heard the squeaking call of a nuthatch, and seconds later spotted it foraging in a Loblolly Pine overhead. He swooped down a bit closer to check me out.

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Brown-headed Nuthatch

My pishing worked a little too well, and got him very agitated. He tended to stay near a tree with a small cavity in it: a possible nest site.

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My best photo of the species

We then began to head back in the direction of Charlottesville, taking a detour along the way to visit a spot I had heard about from my friend Drew.

My dad waited at the car as I walked down the road of an abandoned farm. The dirt road became overgrown with brambles until it became a narrow trail through dense mixed woods. It came to an overgrown pasture with more mature pine forest on the other side. I hopped an old barb-wire fence and entered the woods after being mobbed by a pair of nesting Red-shouldered Hawks, where I heard the familiar songs of Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers. As I continued through the mature woods, the songs of the two warblers were never out of earshot. Shortly, I turned onto a trail that entered open pine woods with tall grass and bramble understory.

I spotted a dragonfly gliding by me, and followed it until it perched on the ground. It was a freshly emerged Harlequin Darner, which I managed to sneak up to and pick up. I placed it on a nice-looking perch for photos.

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Harlequin Darner

The dragonfly turned out to be a first county record and the easternmost record in the state.

I reached the end of the trail, where I added a few species, including Brown Thrasher, Black-and-white Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, and Hermit Thrush.

My dad picked me up at the road, where I found a discarded cardboard sign reading “Brunswick Stew at Ebeneezer Church” with an arrow pointing to the left. It was Brunswick County after all, home of the Brunswick Stew.

We took a slightly longer route north that went through Lunenberg County, which I had never birded in before. We stopped on the side of the road a handful of times when we heard bird activity, accumulating a total of around 30 species from the car.

We entered the town of Crewe in Nottoway County, and searched for the tiny population of Eurasian Collared-Doves there. After much thorough searching in train stations, junkyards, and neighborhoods, we dipped. I got a Hardee’s burger for consolation.

Amelia County was brief; we only found a few birds to add to my county list.

As dusk approached, we noticed a dramatic decrease in bird activity, but nonetheless arrived at Powhatan State Park in Powhatan County: the last new county of the trip. I added many of the same common birds from previous stops, adding a couple dozen species for our final stop of the day.

Our day list total was 89, not too bad for a cold day in early spring migration!

 

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Winter’s End and the Ides of March

Winter’s End

Recently, birding has been very infrequent due to the responsibilities of school, but I have managed to see some nice birds during the weekends.

Baxter, Tucker, and I met up with Ezra and Theo at our usual spot: Rockfish Gap. The conditions were icy, with some snowfall left on the ground from the storm last night. Yesterday’s trip to Highland County was cancelled due to snow, but we decided to take advantage of the weather to look for longspurs and other birds in Rockingham and Augusta Counties.

After piling into the car, we descended into Waynesboro, arriving at a series of ponds in the city. As we pulled up, we noticed the long-continuing Trumpeter Swan floating on the water, along with some American Black Ducks. We exited the cars, slipped a couple times on the icy sidewalk, and introduced ourselves to two birders from the southern piedmont: Evan and Ty. We would be spending the morning giving them a quick tour of the Shenendoah Valley.

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Banded Trumpeter Swan (Previously seen in Garrett County, MD)

A few minutes later, we stumbled upon Allen, a skilled local of the valley, who was stopping by to see the bird. As we watched the beautiful swan, we discussed juvenile swan identification and the origins of the individual. Shortly, Allen departed, and the rest of us continued north to Strickley Road, where we would search for longspurs.

After a quick walk down the road, we had only found a handful of larks, some robins, and a kestrel. As we were loading back into the cars and preparing to leave, a large mixed flock of larks and pipits flew by, and landed right by our car. We got out, and flushed all of the larks and many pipits, but a few remained, allowing for great views. Surprisingly, it was my first time seeing an American Pipit on the ground; they were always flyovers at unexpected times and places. Seeing one through the binoculars for the first time was very satisfying.

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American Pipit

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Lookin’ for a snack

We also scanned another distant group of Horned Lark for longspurs, but came out empty-handed.

We continued north towards Elkton, our second longspur stop. Of course, we made a necessary stop at a gas station for Mountain Dew and Lays. As we were about to leave, I spotted a slushie machine in the back of the store. It was the same company and flavors as the traditional lucky slushies at the Monterey gas station in Highland County; Alligator Ice with Blue Raspberry and Huckleberry flavors. Baxter, Tucker, and I each grabbed one to go, and we hit the road, arriving in Elkton a few minutes later.

After parking and gearing up, we walked down a road through a plowed cornfield. We stopped at the crest of the hill to scan the fields and train track at the base of the hill. One Horned Lark was singing.

Disappointed, we hiked back up the hill to the cars and finished our slushies. We traveled west to Silver Lake, stopping for gas along the way.

We parked off the side of the road next to the mill, and immediately found the bird we had come for: a White-winged Scoter. This was my first time getting good views of the species, as the previous ones had all been distant scope views of a large sea duck flying away.

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White-winged Scoter

The 3-month continuing Long-tailed Duck was also diving actively; this was my fourth time seeing it this season.

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Long-tailed Duck

Our final stop for the day was Swoope, where we would look for American Tree Sparrows, Golden Eagles, and Brewer’s Blackbirds.

The caravan travelled down the long and winding country roads, the hills covered with long grasses waving in the wind. A Fox Squirrel crosses the road. We came across a pasture that hosted a large flock of blackbirds and starlings. We scanned them as they foraged in the field and perched on cows and farm equipment. Several Bald Eagles flew overhead. A male Horned Lark was very cooperative: unusual for the species.

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Horned Lark

Finding no Brewer’s, we continued on.

We parked next to a pond with two Tundra Swans on it, and walked down a corridor lined with brush. Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and White-throated Sparrows flocked. Every bird was checked in search of a continuing American Tree Sparrow.

At the end of the trail, a long tailed sparrow with a clean breast flew by, landing on the  other side of the inaccessible marsh. A perfect candidate for a tree sparrow, we disappointedly returned to the car. Our allotted birding time had come to an end, so we said goodbye to Evan and Ty, and returned to Charlottesville.

My Northern Shoveler was still spending its time at my pond during late February, along with brief appearances of Bufflehead and Wood Duck.

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Northern Shoveler

 

 

 

A few days later, I was pleasantly surprised by a stunning male Red-breasted Merganser.

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Red-breasted Merganser, the second hottest duck

This was the second time I had seen this species at my house. My most long-awaited yardbird also finally appeared the same day.

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Hooded Mergansers

Early on the first Saturday of March, I arrived at a home in Forest Lakes neighborhood. I briefly spoke with the homeowners, and then watched the bird feeders from afar for almost an hour until Logan arrived. Then, only a few minutes later, the bird we had been waiting for appeared: my #188th Albemarle County Lifebird, Orange-crowned Warbler.

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Feeder stalking an Orange-crowned Warbler

Robert pulled up a few minutes later, and with horrible timing, the bird flew off before he could see it.

The Ides of March

March is notorious as a slow time for birders; it is the awkward time where winter birds have departed, but migrants have not quite arrived. This is especially prevalent halfway through the month, just around the Ides. Luckily, this year I had quite a successful Mid-March.

The day of the Ides brought the first Northern Rough-Winged Swallows for Virginia year to the pond behind my house.

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Northern Rough-winged Swallow hunting for that insect

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Banking Swallow (see what I did there?)

The Tree Swallows arrived on the same day, exactly a month later than the first arrival in Albemarle County the previous year. These Tree Swallows were the first seen in Albemarle County for the year.

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Tree Swallow in the rain

The following day, Conor chased the swallows at my house. We only found one Rough-winged, but as he was about to leave, we spotted a distant pair of ducks flying away. I was cameraless, so conor snapped a photo while attempted to identify. After studying the mostly unidentifiable photos, we found one that showed the trailing bird to be an obvious male Common Merganser!

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Common Mergansers, the hottest duck (Pathetic excuse for a photo by Conor Farrel)

My dream of finding one at my house became reality. Male Common Mergansers are undoubtedly my favorite duck, and one of my favorite birds altogether. You could even say that my HOME has COME to a merganser closeout…ba dum tsssss…

The next evening, I was sitting in my living room as usual doing homework, talking with my family, and playing Fortnite. Suddenly, my mom and I heard an ugly whining sound coming from outside. I used my birder instincts and immediately shut off the game, switched my phone over to video, and began a recording as I opened the door to my back deck. The bird vocalized several times before stopping.

My immediate thought was that the bird was a juvenile owl of some sort, but then after more reasearch and consulting other birders, the bird was identified as a Northern Saw-whet Owl! The call, although not completely typical of a saw-whet, matched perfectly to one I found on Xeno-Canto.

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Spectrogram of my owl

I was absolutely enthralled! The Northern Saw-whet Owl was yet another bird I had dreamed of seeing (or hearing) at my house, because of the nearby grove of Virginia Pines, White Pines, and Eastern Red Cedars.

A great several weeks of birding!

Winter Birding in the Greater Richmond Area

We started bright and early at the Smoothie King at Pantops. In our respective cars, we headed east, finding a Common Raven at a rest stop along the way (my easternmost raven in Virginia!)

About forty five minutes later, we made it to Dutch Gap Conservation Area. We parked across the street from an observation platform overlooking the flats. Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, and American Coots were abundant. A couple Blue-winged Teals were a very nice bird for the winter time.

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Ring-necked Duck

Ring-billed Gulls swooped by.

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Ring-billed Gull

I found a furtive Brown Thrasher in some nearby brush, but the bird vanished shortly after the others arrived to see it.

Ducks constantly flew in and out of the dense, brush-covered wetlands. We found some Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, Mallard X American Black Ducks, and a Hooded Merganser.

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An obliging Pintail drake

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Northern Pintail

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Mallard X American Black Duck in flight

We reached the end of the wetlands, and walked out onto a newly built boardwalk through cattails. I imagined how much easier it would be to see Least Bitterns here now; I still needed them for my lifelist.

After walking the boardwalk, we continued past Henricus Park and arrived at the overlook of the James River.

It was quiet, aside from a few distant Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. After waiting for a few minutes, we heard the sounds of chaotic honking in the distance: geese. We made out long, faint lines over the tree-line across the river. The several thousand Canada Geese approached, slowly becoming louder and louder.

We scanned for rarities, finding two Snow Geese mixed in: a very nice bird for the area.

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Snow Goose

Not everyone saw the bird, but the flock fortunately reappeared a few minutes later, and everyone got their eyes on the geese.

We walked down to the retention pond, finding some Bufflehead and Canvasback.

Our next stop was City Point in Hopewell, where we were hoping to see Orange-crowned Warblers. We arrived, and found essentially nothing other than some Bald Eagles.

We set off for our final planned birding location of the day: the Gullmart.

As we approached the reknown gull Mecca, I noticed two large corvids with nicely-wedged tails: ravens. They were a nice rarity for the location. I had broken my previous record for easternmost raven in Virginia only hours after setting it.

We arrived at the Colonial Heights Ponds and began to scan. We worked our way around the pond to get a better vantage point of the thousands of Ring-billed Gulls and hundeds of Herring Gulls, finding a good number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the process.

As we were completing the scan, a stunning Iceland Gull was spotted on the hillside overlooking the pond. A lifer for several, we enjoyed the white-winged beauty before the flock flushed.

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Iceland Gull (Kumlien’s)

We returned to a parking lot laden with gulls, surprised at how efficiently we had completed our route for the day. Wondering what to do next, Logan remembered a continuing Brant all the way in Nottoway County: directly west of Colonial Heights.

On the way, we did some county listing in Dinwiddie and Nottoway counties: both of which most of us had never visited. A group of eight Wild Turkeys were spotted along the way before stopping in the town of Crewe to look for Eurasian Collared-Doves and gas stations with gummy worms and potato chips.

We arrived at the Getiatric Hospital, the spot where the Brant had been continuing. After parking in a lot next to a soybean field, we got out and spotted the little saltwater goose foraging with a group of Canada Geese. It was just about the last place I would look for a Brant.

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Brant

Back in the car, we made it west to Farmville, and shot north towards Scottsville, our last stop of the day.

Racing the sun, we crossed over the James River and entered the quaint Main Street of Scottsville. After passing through, we shortly arrived at Stillfred’s Pond, the best duck location in Albemarle County.

We trotted down the plowed corn field towards the large pond. Upon reaching the waters edge, we spotted several scaup, which were identified as two lessers and three greaters: the  latter was a long-needed county lifer.

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Scaup (one of them dove)

A sizable duck flock was spotted in the distance, and slowly approached until we were able to count and identify them: 37 Northern Pintails!

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Many pintails

Following the major flock were groups of thirteen and four, resulting in a total of 54 Northern Pintails, and doubling the previous high count for the county. These groups came too close for my 400mm prime lens to capture them in their entirety.

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More pintails

We returned to the cars, ending a spectacular day of birding from Richmond to Scottsville and almost everywhere in between!

Ducks in Albemarle

I’ve had quite a terrible duck county list for the past couple years, mostly due to the fact that I had never gotten into county listing, and I had only been seriously birding for one winter season. With the arctic cold front freezing northern lakes, I was hoping to add some much-needed waterfowl to my Albemarle County list.

The duck extravaganza began on the eighth of January with a stunning male Redhead that appeared on a small patch of exposed water on my pond. The surrounding ice allowed for close views. A county lifer.

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Redhead

The next day his mate joined him.

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Redhead pair

After school the next day, my sister drove me over to the lake behind Monticello High School.  There, I snagged my county lifer Common Merganser, a nice rare bird for Albemarle, and also a great addition to my school list.

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Common Merganser

Back at my house, the continuing Redheads were joined my a Northern Shoveler hen, another great yardbird and county lifer.

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Redheads and shoveler

I was able to get some nice action shots when the bird took off.

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Northern Shoveler in flight

The Redheads left after the pond began to thaw, but the shoveler has stayed ever since, and I presume she will spend the winter there.

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Northern Shoveler on the thinning ice

Lastly, my sister drove me down to Scottsville, a small town on the James River. There, I checked a nearby pond at dusk, finding a Green-winged Teal and some Buffleheads in the pond. There were several Gadwall circling above, and a pair of Northern Pintails flying away. Both were county lifers! The Gadwall was seriously overdue, but the Northern Pintail was quite the nice county bird. Here’s some poor documentation:

Distant flocks of several hundred Canada Geese flew on the horizon, most likely hosting Cackling Geese. Another county lifer for another time.

After seeing five county birds in a week and reaching a county list of 185, I started getting into the county listing thing. My next goal: reaching 200 species for Albemarle County by the end of 2018!

 

Winter Expedition Part Two: Richmond, NoVA, and the Valley

Day Three

Our phone alarms went off at 7:30, and we slowly emerged from the warm sheets. The AC wasn’t working last night and it was too hot, so I by mistake broke the window trying to crack it open for some fresh air.

We dressed ourselves with the window wide open, letting in frigid gusts of wind.

After a quick breakfast we carried our luggage into 8 inches of winter wonderland, and set off shortly in the birder mobile.

Once we got going, we began to feel the adrenaline of our second leg of the trip. There were several spots we had planned to stop at in and around Richmond for waterfowl before setting off for Northern Virginia.

We pulled over on the side of the road to look at a large flock of Redheads and Ring-necked Ducks before returning to the van. After several minutes we arrived at a park with a large pond covered with waterfowl. We raised our binoculars to find a couple hundred domestic geese and mallards.

Another stop, this time on the James, provided zero species due to the river being frozen.

We were running out of luck, and made our way to Brown’s Island, a riverside park in Downtown Richmond.

The sidewalk led to a long walking bridge that crossed the James, so we continued onto it, straddling the edge of the tranquil, iced-over river to the right, and the chaotic, rocky rapids to the left.

The bitter-cold wind burnt our faces as we scanned the distant gull flocks for rarities. American Black Ducks, Mallards, and hybrids of the two were tossed around in the rushing waters just below us.

It became unbearably cold, so we retreated to the van.

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Richmond riverfront

We left the city limits and arrived at Swift Creek Reservoir, a good duck spot in Midlothian. The majority of the lake was frozen.

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A Mallard lit up by the snow

The birds were far too distant, so we drove to a second vantage point across the reservoir.

The second spot provided Canvasback, scaup, and lots of American Coot, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Shovelers. A group of Bald Eagles stood on the ice, watching the nearby raft of ducks.

Next stop was The Walmart Supercenter in Colonial Heights, often affectionately referred to as the “Gullmart” by Virginia birders.

We arrived to find about a thousand Ring-billed Gulls standing on the frozen over pond, with another several hundred circling above the nearby landfill. Within thirty seconds of beginning the scan, Tucker spotted a white-winged gull, which after finding the bird was identified as an Iceland Gull (kumlien’s).

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Kumlien’s Gull

We also found a Laughing/Franklin’s Gull, which was identified as just a Laughing Gull after it raised its head.

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Laughing Gull

Hand-feeding Ring-billed Gulls Cheez-its was another highlight.

We completed our route for the Richmond area, so we set our GPS for a rural farm in King William County: the Say’s Phoebe spot.

This time, we drove over to the correct side of the property, and began the search. Huntings dogs barked loudly, driving flocks of creepers, chickadees, and nuthatches out of the area. Some dogs were friendlier than others, and one individual befriended us during our search.

We split into groups to search, and my curious friend stayed at my heels. I scanned the cedars, cow patties, and even a junco and bluebird roost under a shed for the phoebe.

Our long search proved unsuccessful, so we began the next leg of our journey to Northern Virginia. We arrived at our hotel in Alexandria, and spent the evening playing cards and eating snacks from the vending machine.

Day Four: 

The day started early, as all birding days start. We hit the ground running, arriving at Occoquan Regional Park shortly after sunrise. A Glaucous Gull had been continuing here, but our morale was lessened when we only found a some Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, Redhead, and a Red-breasted Merganser on the Occoquan River.

Nonetheless, the big, bold, and beautiful white-winged gull was right there. The entire flock was then flushed by a Bald Eagle.

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Gulls

The Glaucous Gull flew by in the morning light, offering amazing views.

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Glaucous Gull

We left the gull after a while and arrived shortly at Pohick Bay a Regional Park. The park was simply a boat ramp and dock with an expansive view of a large section of the Potomac River.

Scopes were unloaded and we walked out into the dock, finding a couple hundred ducks on a small portion of open water surrounded by ice.

The raft was primarily aythya ducks: Redhead, Ring-necked, and both scaup species.

After only five minutes of picking through the flock, Gabriel yelled, “I think I have a Tufted!” Shocked, Baxter quickly found the bird in his own scope, saying that the bird was a hybrid with a scaup due to the gray back and short tuft.

I eventually got on the bird and had horrible views. The three of us tried to help Ezra, Theo, and Tucker get on the bird but lost the chance. The eagles started to become more active, and the ducks began to stir before taking off and flying upriver. The moment was bittersweet.

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Bald Eagle

We began to walk after the flock, and came across a duck hunter who said that there were tens of thousands of ducks a little further upriver, and that some of his friends were already out on the river hunting.

Knowing that all of those birds were going to be flushed down to us, we excitedly continued up the river to a better observation point. There, several thousand ducks sat on the ice and water, and swarms of hundreds flew toward us, fleeing from the hunters.

In awe, we started looking for interesting ducks in the masses. Thousands of aythya ducks floated on the water, and Tundra Swans flew overhead.

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Tundra Swans

Gunshots were heard upriver, and after a few seconds, swarms of pintail, gadwall, wigeon, and black duck approached.

After having picked through the flock fairly thoroughly, Baxter, Gabriel, and I got down to business. We started a tape and assigned species to one another. Each of us counted individuals of a species by scope glasses, and then dictated our counts into the microphone.

We found a red headed Eurasian Wigeon amongst a sea of green headed American Wigeons.

Every few minutes we switched shifts, and those who had scanned returned to the van to warm up.

After about an hour of this, we finished our counts, and had tallied up about four thousand Redhead. Approximately two thousand individuals of each of the following species were counted; Ring-necked Duck, American Black Duck, and Gadwall; one thousand for Canvasback and Lesser Scaup; around five hundred for Northern Pintail and American Wigeon; smaller numbers of Greater Scaup, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Common Goldeneye, and Ruddy Duck; and one individual for Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck x Scaup sp.

We were quite impressed with our numbers, and had seen another ten thousand unidentifiable ducks on the opposite side of the river.

Our celebration of a successful duck outing commenced at Five Guys, with burgers, fries, and shakes.

Our stomachs full, we set off for Laurel Hill Equestrian Center. There we looked for a long-continuing Clay-colored Sparrow, a bird I saw at the end of last year, but one we all wanted to get on our 2018 yearlists nice and early. We were successful.

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Clay-colored Sparrow

We headed west to Sully Woodlands to search for the Northern Shrike that has called the park it’s home for two winters.

The little predatory songbird was nowhere to be found; the sparrows and finches did not live in fear, more evidence that the masked butcher wasn’t present.

We thought it was worth checking the other park the shrike was occasionally visited, but had the same luck.

As evening approached, we continued to Dulles Airport, entered the parking garage, and ascended to the top floor. We had a 360 degree view of runways, terminals, and open fields.

Several Short-eared Owls worked the fields. Then, a white beacon appeared in the distance: a Snowy Owl in flight. We had found what we were looking for, and watched it as it  soared down the runway, before setting back down in the ground.

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My best Snowy Owl photo

Once it reached dusk, the winds picked up, and my scope tipped over: the final blow. The internal lens had been knocked ajar, and my beloved scope had been reduced to a maraca.

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RIP scope

We had a strong craving for ethnic food, and seeked out a nearby Ethiopian restaurant. The plates were meant for sharing, and the carnivores in the group (me and Baxter) feasted on lamb, beef, chicken, and a variety of vegetables on injera.

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Ethiopian Food

A good end of the day.

Day Five: 

We woke up exhausted. The usual packing of things began, but this was our last morning.

Back at Sully Woodlands, we found no shrike.

We returned to Dulles parking garage in hopes of seeing Rough-legged Hawks. Within a couple minutes of scanning, the ones with scopes spotted an extremely distant hawk. Once it banked, it appeared to be all black, and had a strong dihedral and acrobatic flight: a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk! Here is the best photo I could manage:

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A black speck

Satisfied, we headed west into the Shenendoah Valley, arriving at Sky Meadows State Park: specifically, the Bridle Trail.

We got out of the van and walked over to a nearby silo, stuck our heads in an opening, and ticked off Barn Owl for our yearlists.

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A triggered Barn Owl

As I was playing around with my settings and trying to get a sharp photo, I heard Gabriel and Ezra yell “Golden Eagle!” I quickly squirmed out of the silo and Baxter and I ran as quickly as possible. We arrived, panting, to find everyone staring at a gorgeous young Golden Eagle circling high above the rolling grasslands.

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Look at that gorgeous golden nape and those white wing patches and tail band

The bird ascended until it was out of view, a good rarity for Fauquier County. We continued to Blandy Experimental Farm and Arboretum.

We parked and got out, checking the towering conifers for roosting Northern Saw-whet and Long-eared Owls. The nearby feeders were active with chickadees, woodpeckers, and jays.

We walked out to a meadow and then to a small wetland, where we hoped to find American Tree Sparrows. It was relatively quiet, so we walked over to another spot for them.

The rolling fields dotted with cedars hosted few birds, only a mockingbird and Turkey Vultures. We had been searching for a long time, and were about to give up. Then, we suddenly flushed a group of a dozen sparrows that called in flight; they gave the distinctive call of the tree sparrow.

We pursued them, and got good yet brief views of the striking birds. I only managed a poor photo of one bird’s rear end.

Having gotten all of our targets for Blandy and Sky Meadows, we decided to head down the Shenendoah Valley to Rockingham and Augusta counties: Gabriel’s stomping grounds.

Just after leaving Blandy and turning onto Route 17, we spotted a hawk flying just above the roof of our van. Those who had the left seats of the van were able to catch a better glimpse of the bird suddenly said “Rough-legged Hawk! Rough-legged Hawk! Pull the car over!”

Seconds later we were all standing on the side of the road, watching as the apparition hovered twenty feet above the highway median: a juvenile light morph Rough-legged Hawk.

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Rough-legged Hawk

He landed momentarily on the side of the road before lifting back up and flying off.

Completely enthralled, we posted it on the listserv, and discovered it was only the fourth Clarke County record.

We ate lunch at McDonalds. I only had five dollars left, so I hesitantly tried a cheap Filet O’ Fish. I talked with some local waterfowl hunters who had seen some Snow Geese at a nearby pond. We would’ve liked to go see them, but were loosing daylight.

Back on the road, we drove down 81 through the Shenendoah Valley, with the Blue Ridge to the east, and the Appalachian to the west.

We entered the quaint town of Dayton, where horse-drawn Amish buggies and automobiles coexisted. The road continued through to Silver Lake, a small lake just outside of the town.

The near side of the lake was quite busy; the banks were dotted with the unattended bikes of Amish, who were skating on the thick ice and fishing into the open waters.

The far side was made up of thin ice and open waters, which were covered with ducks. Mallards dominated the scene, followed by the Gadwall. There were some Northern Pintails, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, and our primary target, a Long-tailed Duck that was actively feeding. We walked out onto the ice to get a  little closer to the ducks: it was completely frozen to the lake bottom.

Our next stop, just down the road, was Edgebrier Park. We walked past some Muscovy Ducks and under a bridge, where we found a large flock of Canada Geese on the river. Closer inspection revealed the birds we were looking for: 37 Greater White-fronted Geese, and the high count for the state.

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Greater White-fronted Geese

Back in the car, we raced the sun to Fishersville Rock Quarry, a body of water so deep, that isn’t doesn’t freeze over. We walked up the hill, finding many assorted ducks, Canada Geese, and one Cackling Goose.

East to Waynesboro, we were on our way to the location of a continuing Trumpeter Swan. We arrived to find that the gorgeous, all white swan had stuck around for us.

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A banded Trumpeter Swan

After admiring the rare beauty, we headed to our final birding location of the trip: the Invista Ponds. Simply the entrance road to a fiber power plant, the ponds hosted Black-crowned Night-Herons. We found two of them within a few minutes.

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Black-crowned Night-Heron

We departed and met Gabriel and Ezra and Theo’s dads at the Rockfish Gap Hawkwatch. We had found 124 species during the five days, and travelled all across the state: from Virginia Beach to Clarke County. We had endured freezing tempatures: all the way down to windchills of -8 degrees.

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The birders and the van

Ezra, Theo, and Gabriel departed, and the Beamers and I headed east.

Dinner was at Crozet Pizza. Baxter and I shared the “Loaded Fries”, in honor of the traditional “Mega Fries” we never got to eat in Chincotegaue.

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Loaded Fries 

We made it back to Charlottesville, ending a truly epic birding trip.

Winter Expedition Part One: Chasing and Coastal Birding

Day One:

Baxter, Tucker, Gabriel, and I loaded our gear into the 15-seater van in the pre-dawn light. Ezra and Theo arrived shortly, and we set off at 6:00 sharp. I felt a strong sense of déjà vu; one year ago I embarked on a similar trip with the same people.

The purpose of the trip was simple: to add as many species to our Virginia Yearlist as possible.

The drive on 64 east was long, but we stayed wide awake planning our route for the day and quizzing each other on bird calls.

We arrived at a rural farm in Middle Neck: we were searching for a Say’s Phoebe.

Just about every bird was a yearbird for me, from the Savannah and Chipping Sparrows to the bluebirds and meadowlarks.

We spent a great deal of time searching for the continuing rarity until we realized we were on the wrong side of the house. We walked up towards the house and back down a hill, passing a group of hunters preparing for a morning hunt.

On the correct side, we scanned everywhere in search of the phoebe: from cow patties to fence posts. No luck. Bald Eagles and Killdeer were the highlights.

A forty-five minute drive east brought us to the small town of West Point, located on a peninsula at the confluence of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi Rivers. A Snowy Owl had been seen here recently on docks and buildings throughout the town.

We stopped at the main dock, finding no owl, but a nice raft of Canvasback. We spent over an hour scouring the whole town in search of the illusive ghost. Noon was quickly approaching and we had nothing to show for it.

We began the drive to Hampton.

Shortly, I recieved a text alert of the Black-throated Gray Warbler that had been continuing in Williamsburg. Baxter yelled, “Mom, set the GPS to 103 Exeter Court!” This wasn’t our first time chasing a bird here.

We knocked on the front door and Brian, the homeowner and a birder, let us in. We sat in the living room, scanning the holly trees the warbler was so fond of.

Over an hour passed, and we had only added a couple yearbirds, so we departed.

We entered Hampton and pulled in to the Buckroe Beach parking lot, unloaded our scopes, and maneuvered through the maze of Ring-billed Gulls that dotted the lawn. We set up our scopes, finding a Common Goldeneye.

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My first adult male Common Goldeneye

Horned Grebes, a Red-throated Loon, Black Scoters, and Surf Scoters sat on the water.

We drove south to Fort Monroe, where we had little luck, aside from a nice flock of American Wigeons.

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American Wigeons

We crossed the Hampton Bay-Bridge Tunnel into Norfolk, and parked at the Thirsty Camel, a bar that happened to have a nice beach behind it.

Greater Scaup and Surf Scoters foraged along the beach.

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Surf Scoter

We checked out another beach in Norfolk at dusk, and ended our first and rather unsuccessful day at Olive Garden and the hotel pool. We had learned our lesson: don’t chase rarities, find them!

Day Two:

We woke up bright and early and packed our things.

We arrived at the breakfast area, where the local news was playing on the television. A huge winter storm was going to hit Coastal Virginia in the evening, and the forecast called for a foot of snow. Our plans ruined, we abandoned Virginia Beach and decided to bird Northampton for the day.

We got on to the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel, and scanned the rafts of ducks for eiders and White-winged Scoters. A chunky cormorant flew left of the van: a Great Cormorant! The bird continued to fly alongside us before a strong gust of wind pushed it back.

The tunnel rose high above the bay, offering a stunning views, before descending towards Fisherman’s Island.

The road continued over the island’s scrubby, barren habitat and sandy beaches.

We then crossed expansive saltmarsh, and into the familiar towering pine stands of the Eastern Shore.

After a few minutes, we turned onto a farm road that led to Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve.

We unloaded the van and started down a trail through thick second growth. Some Palm Warblers called, and Yellow-rumps swarmed overhead. As we walked down the path, a loud rustling sound came from the brush, and a noisy American Woodcock flew off.

The second growth transformed into pine woodlands, and the woodlands led to saltmarsh. Swamp Sparrows were common and quite vocal.

A good sized flock of ducks flew north over Magothy Bay: Common Mergansers, a rarity in Northampton County. Baxter yelled over for me to snag a proof shot.

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Common Mergansers

There were fifteen, which was the new high count for the county.

An Orange-crowned Warbler called from the brush, showed itself briefly, and flew over the marsh and back into the woods.

The saltmarsh was completely frozen, so we walked out into the grasses. One Sedge Wren was very vocal, and a Virginia Rail gave its grunt call. Yellow-rumped Warblers were abundant.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler in saltmarsh

Despite a thorough sweep of the area, no sharp-tailed sparrows were found.

We continued back into the woodlands, and Brown-headed Nutchatches squeaked from the tops of pines. Another Orange-crowned Warblers made a brief appearance.

We checked Magothy Road and had the same luck with sparrows.

Our next stop was Cheriton Landfill, the same place we all had seen a Lucy’s Warbler a exactly a year ago. The lake was unfrozen, and we scanned the hundreds of Canada Geese for rarities.

Redheads, Ring-necks, wigeons, and shovelers were the most abundant ducks. Gulls and vultures constantly circled overhead.

We crossed the peninsula and arrived at Cape Charles, a quaint beach town on the Chesapeake Bay.

After parking on the street, we walked over to the dunes, finding two little frosty, pale Savannah Sparrows perched on a sign: Ipswich Sparrows!

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Ipswich Sparrows

A subspecies lifer for most of us, we watched the birds for a while before they flew down into the dunes.

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Ipswich Sparrow

We walked on the pier, which went over the beach and out to a jetty. The tempatures were so low that parts of the bay had become frozen over, and large chunks of ice piled up against the rocks: a sight that one would not expect to see in Virginia.

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American Oystercatchers

Several Purple Sandpipers worked the rocks, probing crevices with their long, decurved bills.

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Purple Sandpiper and Oystercatchers

Two more groups of Common Mergansers flew overhead: one of eight and the other of five. The freezing conditions were probably bringing groups south down the peninsula.

During the drive south to Kiptopeke State Park, we decided to skip Chincoteague due to the blizzard. Instead, we would spend the night in Richmond and head up to Northern Virginia for the last two days.

Once we arrived at the Kiptopeke Fishing Pier, we unloaded and walked through the lawn. We were here to look for two Snow Buntings that had been continuing for the past month. Two large field birds were flushed up ahead, and they flew directly above us, showing their snowy white and buffy plumage, and giving a variety of flight calls before setting back down on the shortgrass lawn.

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Snow Bunting

They also flew up onto the railing of the pier.

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Snow Bunting

After enjoying the buntings for a while, we got back in the car and crossed the Bay-Bridge Tunnel back into Virginia Beach. Our last birding stop of the day was Stumpy Lake, where we hoped to see a continuing Black-legged Kittiwake that had been around for a couple months.

We arrived to find the lake’s open waters replaced with a thick sheet of ice, and the towering Bald Cyprus trees covered with snow. Countless Great Blue Herons stood still on the lake like statues, slowly becoming engulfed in the snowfall. Bald Cyprus forests and snow made for an unusual combination.

The lake was void of gulls, so we sadly departed for Richmond.

Dinner was at Cava, a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Richmond. We finished off dinner with a couple games of foosball before settling into our hotel and playing card games.

 

Yearly Summary: 2017

My 2017 birding year got started at 7:30 am on Tuesday, January 3rd:

We arrived at a small home in the suburbs of Williamsburg, and sat inside the house staring at the feeders, until a Western Tanager swooped down to the feeder to grab a peanut before flying off.

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Western Tanager

It was the regular homeschool birder squad (Me, Gabriel, Baxter, Tucker, Ezra, and Theo), and we spent the week birding coastal Virginia, accumulating a total of 155 species.

Throughout the week we saw notable species such as Lucy’s Warbler (VA first record), Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper, Great Cormorant, Red-necked Grebe, Lark Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow (Gambel’s), Harlequin Duck (county rarity in a saltmarsh!), Black-headed Gull, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shrike, American Tree Sparrow, and Black-throated Gray Warbler (D.C. first record). We also had closeouts on geese, ducks (we saw a flock of 50,000 Aythya), rails, wrens, and saltmarsh ammodramus.

For the rest of January, I headed west to the mountains.

Highland County added Golden Eagle and Ruffed Grouse, while Northwestern Virginia added several owl species, including Long-eared, Short-eared, and Barn.

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Long-eared Owl

February started in Downtown Richmond, where I saw Glaucous Gull and Painted Bunting at the same location.

We stopped in Hampton for Snow Bunting, which immediately became my favorite bird.

At dawn the following day, we witnessed a massive irruption of Razorbills, and recorded 1,500 northbound individuals at Little Island Pier, along with eight Dovekies.

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Watching Razorbills at Little Island Pier

A boat trip around the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel provided Great Cormorant, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, thousands of gannets, and, most notably, King Eider.

Trumpeter Swans and Sandhills Cranes are two other sightings in the last weeks of February.

March, which is typically a slow month in Virginia, forced me, Walker, Baxter, and Tucker to migrate north to Pennsylvania. Our mission was to see the rare Mexican endemic Black-backed Oriole continuing at a feeder in Lancaster, and an individual thats’ provenance has been greatly debated.

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Black-backed Oriole

During the trip we birded a bit in Virginia, seeing forty Red Crossbills on Reddish Knob.

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Red Crossbill (a close second to Snow Bunting)

We also did some birding in PA, seeing Bullock’s Oriole, Ring-necked Pheasant, thousands of Tundra Swans, and re-finding a Eurasian Teal after it disappeared for a month.

During an afternoon in late March, I recived a listserv email regarding a first state record Prairie Falcon found in downtown Alexandria. I arrived the next day, finding the bird perched on the power plant. The bird was kind enough to fly over the D.C. border, so I added it to that list as well.

Mid April showed the beginning of spring migration. I birded locally, finding many migrants including Mourning and Wilson’s Warblers, and some possible breeders along the Rivanna River.

Through late April to mid May, the BRYBC did club trips from the pine savannah of Sussex County to the high elevations of Highland County, seeing Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Swainson’s Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Alder Flycatcher, and Black-billed Cuckoo.

Late May marked another great jump in my yearlist total, when Baxter, Tucker, and I spent the first days of summer birding VA Beach and the Eastern Shore.

We saw Mississippi Kite, Gull-billed Tern, Red Knot, Northern Bobwhite, Dickcissel, Black Tern, Whimbrel, Piping Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Chuck-will’s-Widow, and Swallow-tailed Kite (very rare).

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Swallow-tailed Kite

Immediately following my trip to the beach, my dad and I took a road trip to Maine, seeing Gray Jay, Olive-sided Flycatcher, lots of breeding warblers, and some northern odonate species.

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Gray Jay

I then spent a week on Hog Island and attended the Coastal Maine Bird Studies for Teens Session. I met some amazing fellow young birders, and developed an understanding for the natural history of Mid-Coast Maine, including birds, butterflies, dragonflies, plankton, crustaceans, carnivorous plants, and trees. Some notable birds include Bobolink, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Red Crossbill, and Ruffed Grouse.

We spent one day on Eastern Egg Rock, and was able to observe Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, Arctic Terns, Roseate Terns, and Common Eiders from the blinds.

After leaving camp, I visited the prairies of southern Maine, finding an Upland Sandpiper, and another favorite bird of mine.

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Upland Sandpiper

In late June I was able to do some statelisting in New Jersey and New York during a family vacation. I birded Central Park and Jamaica Bay, seeing some more common woodland and coastal species.

July was fairly quiet, aside from a Mission Trip to Farmville, where I was able to boost my Prince Edward County list up to 70 species, and see a new region of the state: the Southern Piedmont.

Late July brought another family road trip, this time to Harper’s Ferry and Antietam, D.C., Annapolis, and finally, Rehoboth Beach.

This trip allowed for more casual statelisting in Maryland and Delaware, as well as the opportunity to bird Bombay Hook NWR a bit, where I refound the Little Egret, and also saw my long awaited lifer Long-billed Dowitcher. I reached a Delaware statelist of 86 by the end of the trip.

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Little Egret

In the last days of summer, I birded around Southeastern Virginia for the day, adding Caspian Tern, Wood Stork, and Anhinga to my Virginia Lifelist.

Shorebird migration got started in early September, when I saw White-rumped Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Golden-Plover, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Red-necked Phalarope.

Notable non-shorebird species include Common Tern (first county record), Brown-headed Nuthatch (Piedmont), Barn Owl, and Black Tern.

Peak fall migration brought me, Baxter, and Gabriel to the Eastern Shore, where we participated in the Kiptopeke Challenge, a fundraiser for the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory.

We won with a total of 132 species, and saw Saltmarsh Sparrow, Western Sandpiper, Piping Plover, Delmarva Fox Squirrel, Long-tailed Skipper (rarity from Gulf Coast), and lots of other great wildlife.

Birding Shenendoah National Park also provided good numbers of neotropical migrants such as Philadelphia Vireo.

Tbroughout October I birded quite a bit locally, seeing rarities such as Loggerhead Shrike and Clay-colored Sparrow.

A pre-dawn warbler fallout at Rockfish Gap was also notable, where I saw eleven warbler species perched inside an old motel sign.

In early November I attended the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in South Texas. I got 59 lifers, and was able to finally go west of Ohio.

Some notable species seen were Tamaulipas Crow (after a decade of extirpation from the U.S.), White-collared Seedeater, Audubon’s Oriole, Aplomado Falcon, Snowy Plover, Whooping Crane (approx. 600 individuals in the wild), Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Zone-tailed Hawk, Ringed Kingfisher, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Scaled Quail, Sprague’s Pipit, Pyrrhuloxia, and Lark Bunting.

Seeing a completely new ecosystem with unfamiliar landscapes was exhilarating, from the desert hill country of Starr County, to the expansive coastal grasslands of Cameron County. With these new habitats, the birds, insects, and plants were all unfamiliar.

Another great aspect of the festival was connecting with fellow birders from across the nation. The trip total was 188 species: 126 of those were seen in a single day.

The second half of November and most of December were quite busy with holidays and exams. I was able to do some birding at a local park and throughout Augusta and Rockingham Counties, seeing Eurasian Collared-Dove, Long-tailed Duck, Greater White-Fronted Goose, and Cackling Geese. I twitched a continuing Snowy Owl in Rockingham twice, to no avail.

After months of working and saving up, I was able to purchase a new camera setup for Christmas: the Canon EOS 7D Mark II with the 400mm f/5.6L.

The days following Christmas were spent trying to pick up any last Virginia Yearbirds.

I visited Dulles Airport in search of Rough-legged Hawks, but was pleasantly surprised when I refound a Snowy Owl that hadn’t been seen at the airport for a couple weeks.

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Snowy Owl: a former nemesis, and my 295th VA Yearbird

I birded a bit in Charlottesville, seeing an American Tree Sparrow.

The next day, the club did a trip to Northern Virginia, where we saw Orange-crowned Warbler, Long-tailed Duck, Clay-colored Sparrow, Eurasian Wigeon, and the Snowy Owl at Dulles Airport.

It was a phenomenal year of birding: I got 109 lifebirds, and my Virginia Yearlist ended with 295 species. I have detailed posts of all my birding experiences since the start of my blog in late May, so please take a look. As always, I look forward to resetting the yearlist and doing this all over again—the thrills of birding!